Ferguson Shooting Case Issue: When Should Officer Names Be Disclosed?


A public cry for the name of the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who killed Michael Brown is a fresh and uncommonly loud iteration of a recurring debate on the balance between police credibility and a public servant's safety, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Although many departments around the U.S. do release officers' names and details of use-of-force investigations, there is no consensus. It has been far from routine in the St. Louis area, where the subject has sparked controversy for years. Some people protesting Saturday's shooting of Brown, 18, who was unarmed, have loudly demanded the officer's name without explaining what they would do with it. Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson says he will provide the name it only under court order or if the officer were charged with a crime.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jeffrey Mittman said some in the public have a lack of trust in how police shootings are investigated. “And we think that starting off by denying the public the right to a document we're entitled to is not the way to begin a difficult time.” Mittman said there is no “officer risk” exemption in Missouri's Sunshine Law. “There are other ways of dealing with that issue,” he said. Names of St. Louis city police officers who used deadly force were never officially released before 2009, although the Post-Dispatch regularly obtained them. Since that time, a policy keeps the names secret until a “threat assessment” clears them for release. “Almost always, there's going to be some level of threat,” said Neil Bruntrager, who has represented numerous officers involved in shootings and who is general counsel for the officers association. He said that releasing the name could put an officer at risk, “perhaps, for years to come.”

Comments are closed.